Profile of Dick DeVos

by Russ Bellant
(From Michigan Liberal)

Dick DeVos is the richest and most right wing major party candidate for Governor in Michigan history. He is the product of the Amway company and its decades of interlinks with the most influential religious extremists. He conducts himself like an Amway recruiter, deception and all.Consider:
  • He tells everyone that he opposes the antiaffirmative action ballot initiative Prop 2. Supporters of Prop 2 complain that DeVos has asked his supporters to not donate to the MCRI, which is running the Yes campaign. All that is fine. But DeVos has only said that he opposes it “at this time.” Prop 2 godfather Ward Connerly told the Detroit Free Press that Dick DeVos does philosophically support his efforts to ban affirmative action. In fact, in 2001 DeVos’s foundation gave $35,000 to the anti-affirmative action cause.
  • DeVos says he is for Michigan jobs, jobs, jobs. But not only has his company laid off over 1,000 employees and set up factories elsewhere, he has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that advocate privatizing, outsourcing and eliminating jobs and undermining the Unions that support those jobs.
  • DeVos says he is for educational opportunity for all, providing substantial funding for scholarship programs that are intended to transfer talented youth from public schools to more conservative private schools.These type of state and national scholarship programs are directly funded and/or controlled by DeVos, WalMart leaders and several right wing financiers to intentionally create a broader constituency for vouchers. Once vouchers are in place, the DeVoses of the world believe that public education will be significantly reduced. Vouchers, however, have been defeated during public referenda by approximately a 2 to 1 margin all over the U.S. because the public does not want to transfer tax dollars to schools without elected boards or public accountability. These scholarship programs are designed, over the years, to change those results.The DeVos – supported Heritage Foundation did not claim that the goal of these programs was to help poor folk. Instead Heritage wrote that the goals were political: “The privately funded voucher movement is building a powerful constituency for school choice.” They also noted that the “children’s parents have names, addresses and phone numbers. They are waiting to be mobilized as a pressure group.” The pressure would be applied to “break up” public education and changes that “could take the form of publicly funded vouchers, of tax credits, of a vast expansion of charter schools.”DeVos has invested millions of dollars in this effort. His Education Freedom Foundation gives grants to about 300 students per year, at a maximum of $1,000 each. They estimate that the average private school charges $3,700, so the targeted low income families still must pay the bulk of the cost. The Heritage Foundation did note, however, that these business leaders could eventually set up for profit schools and “maybe make some money in the process.” DeVos has already invested in a private company, K12 Inc., according to Media Transparency.Perhaps the clearest indication of the political dimension of the scholarship issue is illustrated by the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation’s grants of over a million dollars to various scholarship funds, but only $500 a year to the United Negro College Fund, grants that have been skipped in several recent years.
  • DeVos postures himself as a jobs-focused common sense business man that has a can-do attitude. He fosters the view that he stands for wholesome traditional values, national pride and civic virtue.The very nature of the Amway corporation and the donation patterns of his foundation shows that DeVos rejects the democratic values and institutions that are part of modern civic life and mainstream values. He is a member of a secretive group of about 400 of the most influential right wingers in the country who are dedicated to radically restructuring social power into the hands of a narrow elite. The desirability of democracy is called into question by this self-appointed but well-connected elite, as we shall see later.
DeVos Family Network

Dick DeVos was born into the Amway fortune in Grand Rapids.. His role as international vice president and later president of Amway is due to his anointment by his father. He married Elizabeth ( Betsy ) Prince, daughter of Edgar and Elsa Prince, who generated a family fortune in Holland, just south of Grand Rapids. Both family influences are reflected in the candidate for Governor that we see today.

The Prince family is also deeply connected to extreme right and Republican Party politics. No one in the United States gave more money to James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, its Michigan Family Forum affiliate, or its Washington, D.C. arm, the Family Research Council, than the late Edgar Prince. This network formed little known political action committees across the state and country that were more influential but less well known than Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition.

The brother of the would-be First Lady of Michigan, Erik Prince, also adopted the extreme right views of his parents but has used his wealth to start a military mercenary army. The company that it operates under, Blackwater USA, started in 1997 and quickly started getting contracts when George Bush became president. The are a major contractor in Iraq, hiring former Special Forces, Rangers and Navy SEALS to run security for U.S. ambassadors and unconventional warfare in the streets of Iraq’s cities.

The Bush administration also hired them to go into New Orleans days after Katrina, armed with machine guns and authority to kill, using veterans of Iraq. “Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world,” according to Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who has traveled with them, and Daniela Crespo, who also covered them in New Orleans. Blackwater patrolled and ransacked homes in the Black residential areas of New Orleans. The mercenary outfit is being sued by families of four of their deceased employees in Iraq and by Columbian commandos who were allegedly underpaid.

Blackwater also owns two airlines that were used by the CIA to illegally transport kidnapped citizens of other countries and take them to secret prisons in eastern Europe, where they could be tortured and held incommunicado indefinitely. This “extraordinary rendition” program was condemned in Europe and the Congress for its gross violations of international law.

Since George Bush became President, Blackwater has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts, but is now a featured topic in the new documentary film Iraq for Sale: the War Profiteers.

Inheriting Rightist Politics

The Amway of Dick’s father has funded extreme right groups for over thirty years, In 1975 the elder Richard DeVos, for instance, funded the publication of a book that called for the U.S. to be transformed into a “Christian Republic.” This did not mean to merely increase church attendance, but to create movement to where authoritarian church structures would govern the United States, something like the Islamic states in other regions of the world. Richard Sr. and Jr. have been the most generous benefactors of this movement, along with Dick Jr.’s late father-in-law.

Dick Jr. was nurtured in a milieu of a far right wing that believes that the most privileged elite deserve to govern with minimal obligations to the middle or working classes or the poor. They take a hostile or skeptical view of public services, public education and taxpayer funded activities in general. They believe that this is the natural order of things and are comfortable with a form of politically motivated religious authoritarianism that supports their empowerment.

Dick DeVos and his family network have a variety of instruments for spreading their political influence, including membership in formal coalitions, family foundations, political action committees and the Amway corporate system.

Council for National Policy

Perhaps nothing shows DeVos’s extremism more than his membership in the secretive Council for National Policy ( CNP ). The Council was created in 1981 by leaders of the extremist John Birch Society to move the United States in a very rightward direction. The Birchers, as they were known, explicitly rejected democracy, as did many of the allies they recruited for the CNP. For years they organized White Citizens Council to fight the civil rights movement and later melded into the militia movement ( see sidebar ).

The membership list of the CNP is secret, its meetings are secret and their post meeting activities are secret. Beyond acknowledging that it exists, the CNP prefers the underground conspiratorial style. Membership lists obtained by this writer show why they prefer secrecy.

The CNP includes all the key funders and leaders of the far right: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and D. James Kennedy; Richard Shoff, a former leader of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan; a core of the proapartheid lobby that fought to support to the end, in open concert with the last ruling national socialist regime in the world, the South African apartheid government. Also part of the CNP are members of the Coors brewery family and Texas oilman Nelson Bunker Hunt.

Ex-lobbyist and confessed felon Jack Abramoff ( who also lobbied on behalf of Blackwater ) and his cohort in crime, former Amway distributor Tom Delay, is also in the CNP.

Abramoff established the International Freedom Foundation in the 1980’s to conduct campaigns against Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. It was later discovered that the IFF was a covert instrument of ( apartheid ) South African Military Intelligence. Jesse Helms was its main Senate contact.

CNP member Ralph Reed, former director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and Abramoff associate, wrote a training manual for that group that asserted that the Bible requires employees to submit to their employers because the Bible commanded slaves to submit to their masters.

Members of the Congress such as DeLay, Dan Burton, Jon Kyl, Don Nickles Jesse Helms and other elected officials are part of the CNP, giving members access to the legislative process. AntiUnion activists such as Reed Larson, Mark Mix and others of the National Right to Work Committee and Tom Ellis of the white supremacist Pioneer Fund are also members. The Pioneer Fund once received an award from Nazi Germany for its racialist work

The thrust of the so-called religious leaders of the CNP is toward a movement called Christian Reconstructionism, which claims that our contemporary society is “unBiblical” and should be ruled by theocratic church authority. Also known as Dominionists, these proponents assert that democracy is “heretical,” as are the issues of working people and organized labor; civil rights and social justice issues, as well as empowerment of the disenfranchised. They would replace the Constitution with a form of rule based on Old Testament law. As extreme and bizarre as that sounds, many powerful, politicized religious broadcasters are secretly part of this movement and coordinate political action with others through the CNP. Among those associated with this movement is D. James Kennedy, whose generous funding from the DeVos family allows him to deliver scathing lectures against the gays and lesbians, against civil liberties and for “reclaiming America” to a rightwing version of godliness.

This is the most influential coalition that Dick DeVos is part of. He came in through his father, who is a governor of the CNP. His late father-in-law, Edgar Prince, was the single largest donor to the Council. DeVos Jr.’s foundation also has given the CNP at least $28,000. Others in the DeVos circle that are also in the CNP include Billy Zeoli, head of Gospel Films in Muskegon. Gospel Films is heavily funded by the DeVos’s. In the mid-1990’s it had at least six top Amway distributors and two DeVos family members on its board. Zeoli speaks at Amway rallies and collection packets are passed out for donations for him from Amway distributors.

Why does DeVos and his network value being in a conspiratorial organization with so many persons with extreme political agendas? More disturbing is the question is how such a network could operate in secret with such radical goals and yet maintain ties to the White House and Congress, all without accountability. This is the closest thing we have to the leadership core of a fascist political movement and the world is silent.

The DeVos Foundation: Funding the Far Right

An important indicator of Dick DeVos’s extreme social outlook is also reflected in the financial contributions that he and his wife have made through their Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. Besides the anti-public education support discussed earlier, DeVos has given substantial support to groups that work against public education, for privatization policies that often result in lower wage employment with fewer if any benefits and for so-called religious Dominion groups that work against democratic values.

The foremost example of the latter category is the Foundation for Traditional Values ( FTV ), a Lansing based group that asserts that the United States was created as a “Christian Nation” that was subsequently subverted. Their standard text claims that the subversion of Christianity began with the constitutional amendment to abolish slavery in the 1860’s. FTV is affiliated with D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministry ( supported by millions from Dick’s father ) and a small religious cult, Maranatha, that was politically active in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

FTV conducts seminars across the midwest teaching people that they must create a “Christian Republic” and thereby purge secularism from America. They conduct annual two week political action youth training programs in the state capitol building and hold large fundraising events where the DeVoses are prominent sponsors. The DeVos’s foundation has given FTV well over $100,000.

Groups that actively support campaigns to privatize public services have been generously supported by DeVos. The Mackinac Center in Midland, the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids and the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. have all been steady recipients of DeVos largesse.

Mackinac publishes a periodic newsletter urging municipal, county, school district and state officials to get rid of various public functions and turn them over to private companies that almost always pay less and provide fewer if any benefits. They even conducted a campaign in one school district to get employees to decertify from their Union. They regularly attack Unions as inimical to their goals.

Privatization is a concern that goes even beyond shifting work to low wage, non Union employers. It destroys institutions that citizens have control over and shifts resources to profit making companies that legally have to serve first their owners, not the public interest. As they shrink the public sector’s ability to serve the people, business comes to dominant even the core services of government. The advocates of privatization see the long term effect as reducing or eliminating services. Those who advocate these policies, including the DeVos recipients, want to weaken government to such a degree that it cannot regulate the public sector or use taxing power to aid the needy and disenfranchised. They are philosophically and fundamentally antidemocratic.

The head of Mackinac, Lawrence Reed, is involved in other extremist groups, including one that sponsored a trip to Mozambique so that he could return and write favorably about Renamo, a militia that terrorized unarmed villagers in that country. The U.S. Department of State estimated that Renamo massacred over 100,000 innocent civilians. He has also been active in U.S. and international groups that supported Latin American death squad leaders. The concept of freedom that Mackinac purports to advocate is very obscure indeed.

The Heritage Foundation has a similar record of supporting right wing terrorist groups, as well as brutal dictators that in some cases had murdered thousands of their own citizens. In its early days it also supplied legal aid to a Ku Klux Klan campaign in West Virginia to stop use of textbooks that addressed diversity. Today Heritage is part of the fight to privatize Social Security, reduce social programs and environmental safeguards, resist the minimum wage and encourage government policies against Unions.

The Acton Institute, whose board includes Dick DeVos’s wife Betsy, promote the ideas of business without government regulation and dismisses environmental concerns.

The DeVos foundation has given Acton, Heritage and Mackinac over a half million dollars, with smaller amounts going to similar groups.

In 2001, Dick DeVos’s foundation gave $35,000 to the Center for Individual Rights ( CIR ), the group that brought the lawsuits to stop affirmative action at the University of Michigan, at other campuses and in hiring and promotion policies nationwide. Since these suits were initiated in 1997, it is clear that DeVos was helping fund them. Later the CIR would support Ward Connerly’s ballot initiative and fought in court to keep the fraudulent Proposal 2 on the ballot. CIR’s client Jennifer Gratz joined with Connerly to get the signatures on the ballot to create Proposal 2.

In a 2003 study of groups organized to eliminate civil rights in the United States, the CIR was described as “perhaps the most politically extreme of the of the groups challenging affirmative action, civil rights and racial equality in the United States today.”

The report, The Assault on Diversity, published by the Institute for Democracy Studies, states that early funding for CIR came from the Pioneer Fund, a group founded in 1937 for the purpose of funding racialist research to advocate notions of Nordic supremacy. It has maintained its racialist mission ( see related John Birch story ).

The CIR’s funding comes from a network of foundations, including the Pioneer Fund, Bradley and Olin foundations that also funded Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve. Murray’s book, published in 1994, asserted that whites were an intellectually superior race and therefore justified the ending of affirmative action and education programs that countered the legacy of racism.

The CIR, girded by The Bell Curve sponsors, are doing that, with help from DeVos.

The DeVos and Prince families together have at least 11 foundations, all of which fund to some degree the far right wing. Dick DeVos, in his 1997 book, Rediscovering American Values, notes that “Judeo-Christian tradition encourages a ten percent tithe.” He then states that he and Betsy have “consistently put more than ten percent of our income” into their foundation. Their 1996 foundation tax return shows them only donating $16,750 to the fund, far short of 10% of his income as President of Amway. In 1994, he only gave $12,828. Most of the money for the foundation came from his parents, as did the Amway Corporation itself.

Not only is tithing the wrong term for capitalizing a foundation, it should be noted that a considerable number of his religious and policy group recipients are related to his efforts to elect him Governor. DeVos is nevertheless using this book as a campaign fundraising tool, complete with a preamble from D. James Kennedy.

No one has focused on undermining public education in Michigan more than Dick DeVos. When he was appointed to the State Board of Education by John Engler, he used it to attack public education. While on the Board, he wrote a fundraising letter for Teach Michigan, a group that supported charter schools, vouchers and home schooling as alternatives to public schools. In the letter he called for “radical changes in our public education system.” The change advocated in the letter stated that “our tax dollars should follow students to qualified institutions, regardless of who runs them.” This concept, designed to take money from public education and give it to private and religious schools, was the basis for DeVos’s voucher proposal on the 2000 ballot. It was overwhelmingly rejected by the voters.

It was Teach Michigan that funded the effort to write the charter school law for the Engler administration. They hoped that by taking resources from public school districts that it would begin a downward spiral that would eventually lead to the collapsing of some districts. Parents would then seek the private schools that DeVos and Teach Michigan wanted. DeVos not only wrote the fund raising letter, he served on the Teach Michigan advisory board and also gave them at least $41,500 through his foundation. His father, father in law and friends also wrote checks to support Teach Michigan.

So determined is DeVos to weaken public schools that also funds a political action committee, Great Lakes Education Project, to help elect candidates to the state legislature that support “school choice.” Almost all of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in 2004 came from DeVos himself.

Devos has named David Brandon, president of Domino’s Pizza, as his campaign chairman. As successor to Tom Monaghan, he now only inherited control of a fast food business, but allied himself with a billionaire who has committed his life and fortune to organizing conservative Catholics into a national political force. Monaghan’s Catholic Campaign for America, Legatus and his murky relationship with a secretive group of men who share his goals of Catholic power gave Monaghan soldiers to go with his money.

Brandon, currently on the U of M Board of Regents and a big donor to the Michigan GOP, has aspirations for higher office. The alliance of these forces adds more deep pockets and foot soldiers to DeVos’s campaign. DeVos has been giving money to Monaghan’s projects through his foundation.

Amway: The Employer as Cultmeister

A final dimension of the kind of leader DeVos would be is indicated by the very nature of Amway, aka Quixtar. Amway seeks to project itself as a company where hard work and the right attitude can turn you into a wealthy Amway super distributor. Those who fail to succeed are made to think that they failed due to their own “negative” attitudes. If they would just get the right spirit, believe in themselves, believe in the product, read ‘positive’ books, listen to more motivational tapes and lectures, etc., then they might succeed.

The Amway system actually has relatively few successes. Many people lose money, buying Amway products, attending motivational rallies, buying motivational tapes and books and looking for the elusive breakthrough that always seems to be around the corner. Like the addicted gambler, that cannot see that success is just not in the cards.

As a “multilevel marketing” system, each Amway distributor has someone over them that gets a cut of their sales. The direct distributor is the first supervisory level where they get cuts on all sales below them. Because they have recruited enough people, they just make money off them, usually friends and relatives. As they grow more groups they proceed “upline,” becoming ruby, pearl, emerald, diamond, double diamond and finally crown ambassador distributors. Only about 1% make it to the first level or above. The highest level only had two people in the world. So the 99% at the basic level, who average about $130 per month, are providing all the income for the rest of the “upline.” The upline’s only job is to keep the people at the bottom motivated to keep selling Amway. So the upline folks suck up part of their meager earnings of their distributors by selling them motivational tapes, books and $100 tickets to rallies. One Crown Ambassador earned an estimated $35 million per year, not by selling Amway, but by selling motivation “tools.”

Amway rallies are heavily themed with patriotic appeals and /or prosperity gospel ( god wants you to be rich ) and energetic music, so that you come away seeing Amway standing with moral rectitude, righteousness and purpose. When most fail to earn the thousands per month they were lead to believe was realizable, they certainly do not blame Amway – they blame themselves.

Several former mid-level distributors have written books describing the intense levels of control and have described the Amway system as cultic. A number of countercult groups that help victims of destructive cults have criticized the level of control Amway seek to exert as they drive people into exhaustive schedules and daily indoctrination. In The Cult of Free Enterprise, Stephen Butterfield described late night visits for home and wallet inspections to see if Amway products were being used throughout his house. As a former mid level distributor he watched as families transformed themselves under Amway’s influence. “The Directs I met, when they reached a certain level in the business, withdrew their children from public schools and sent them into ‘Christian’ schools where they could be taught a fundamentalist version of history and science,” wrote Butterfield.

He noted that they became more conservative in their politics after experiencing religious/political revival type Amway rallies. If you wanted to be an Amway “winner” says Butterfield, you “Read only approved books.” Eventually, he noted, “homes become Amway homes.”

For Amway the more intensive the religious commitment, the more they bonded to Amway’s message. The more people were moved in energetic rallies to join Amway’s political causes, the more they were family. All this was good for keeping the flock together, selling and uplining. It was good for business. But it also helped Amway with one other business need.

There is still another, less recognized need for the political strength of Amway’s money and mobilized flock. The very legality and legitimacy of Amway’s activities are unresolved. In Merchants of Deception, former emerald level distributor Eric Scheibeler asserts that Amway has generated billions of dollars fraudulently and that the legality of the Amway marketing system has never been clearly decided. Similar systems, he asserts, have been declared illegal in court decisions. But Amway’s has never been tested.

In 2004, NBC’s Dateline did a program on the pyramid schemes run by Amway. It confirmed the findings of numerous lawsuits of ex-distributors, that the company makes its money from a hidden pyramid scheme of selling tapes, books and tickets to rallies, all from gullible low level distributors. Selling soap is apparently secondary. According to Dateline, the FBI and IRS are conducting investigations into the schemes.

Scheibeler’s book says that the millions that Amway/Devos pay to the Republican Party ( he is a conservative himself ) brings them political protection and favors, including a $283 million federal tax break written into the law specifically for Amway, after they gave Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich a $50,000 “speakers fee” for appearing at an Amway rally. Amway also got tens of millions of dollars from former Governor John Engler for “job training” money at Amway’s plant in Ada.

The Federal Trade Commission ( FTC ) investigated Amway and found fraud and deception in Amway’s methods in 1979. It was then that Amway kicked off a political action group, Citizens Choice, to oppose government “interference” in business. Supporting this pressure group was expected of all distributors. The Amway network has since given more direct cash to the GOP than any other special interest. Scheibeler, who once worked as a federal auditor, notes that the FTC now has staff favorable to multilevel marketing companies and to Amway.

In 1989, when Amway attempted a hostile takeover of Avon, the cosmetics company rebuffed Amway, calling them in a public letter a company “marked by zealotry” and “morally bankrupt and criminally corrupt,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

When Avon called Amway criminally corrupt, they referred to settlements that Amway had to pay for systematically defrauding the Canadian government of customs duties and taxes. Its Canadian subsidiary paid $21 million in fines, while the Ada-based headquarters paid $38.1 million in 1989, the highest in Canadian history. They also referenced the decision of the Federal Trade Commission and the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office that charged Amway “with price fixing and misleading claims in connection with the recruitment of distributors.” In the takeover attempt, Avon charged that Amway skirted federal law by forming a partnership with a well known “corporate raider” based in Minneapolis.

When Scheibeler sent by certified mail and fax the documentation of massive fraud and deception to Dick DeVos, he believed that the abuse would be corrected. Instead he was ignored. His subsequent interactions with senior management led him to believe that senior management, including Dick DeVos, was complicit in illegal practices.

Where DeVos Is Going

DeVos has not stated what he will do if elected. The only specific issue he has raised in his campaign is elimination of the Single Business Tax, which undoubtedly helps Amway. Voters can only conclude where he stands based his history, funding patterns and affiliations. For those who know his history and his affiliations, a reasonable prediction can be made on some issues:

  • Push for more charter schools
  • Find ways of using state resources to assist private schools
  • Make it more difficult for public schools to maintain financial solvency
  • Support legislation that would weaken affirmative action
  • Support so-called right to work legislation to weaken Unions
  • Place barriers before Unions regarding political donations
  • Privatize more state government functions and eliminate other functions
  • Advocate denial of benefits for same sex partners if they are public sector workers
  • Placement of Right wing social issues in the school curriculum, such as creationism, in order to get public schools to start teaching some religious themes.
  • Support another voucher campaign initiated from a GOP controlled legislature, using the Detroit school crisis as a pretext
  • Cut taxes in such a way as to primarily benefit the highest income strata
  • Cut programs because tax cuts reduced revenues
  • Reduce wages and benefits for public employees
  • Reduce wages and benefits for school teachers and non-instructional staff
  • Big cuts to revenue sharing to cities or tie it to municipal privatization schemes
  • Efforts to strip Detroit of its assets, including the Detroit Water and
    Sewerage Department
  • Take over and/or restructure the Detroit schools to undermine the authority of Detroit voters. At the time of the takeover of the Detroit schools, DeVos called it a “failed’ district, when in fact the Detroit student scores were in the mid-range of districts across the state and it had a $97 million surplus. It was the takeover that looted and damaged the district.
  • Start campaigning for President
  • Michigan is facing the election of a candidate to the governorship that has run a business that has been repeatedly characterized as fraudulent and deceptive, whose business skills are called successful when 99% of its sales make little or no income.

    He will not detail his plans or commitments as governor. Therefore we can only look at his twenty year history, look at his family network, where he donates his money, his associations and his public statements over the years.

    Voters that have had misgivings about the current Governor could create a repeat of the 1990 election, when Jim Blanchard alienated Detroit leaders and voters, reducing voter turnout. That made the difference that elected John Engler, whose 12 year reign did more to hurt Detroit than any shortcomings of any of his opponents. Dick DeVos is more extreme, more determined and less compromising than John Engler. Neither Detroit leaders nor voters should be ambivalent about what needs to be done.

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